Jane, Jim and the cast of 'Sam and Friends' in 1960 (Photo: AP/The Jim Henson Company)
Jane Henson, creative and business partner and former wife of Muppets creator Jim Henson, has died. She was 78 years old.
Jane played a big part in the creation of The Muppets. Born in 1934 in New York, she met Jim in a University of Maryland puppetry class in the mid-'50s. They ended up getting married, having five kids, and developing what would become The Muppets.
They first worked together at NBC affiliate WRC-TV, where they created 'Sam and Friends', a live-action/puppet TV show where Kermit appeared for the first time (although he wasn't a frog at the time - more like some kind of lizard).
Here's a sketch from 'Sam and Friends' featuring Kermit and Sam. It's a great example of the creativity and humour that represents the spirit of The Muppets:
Jane collaborated with Jim on that show, performing as several Muppets and helping to develop various technical innovations, including using TV monitors to watch performances in real time.
She also helped design many of the puppets on The Muppet Show, the BBC reports.
Jane donating early puppets to the Smithsonian in 2010 (Photo: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
Although she stopped working as a puppeteer in the early 1960s, Jane continued to collaborate with Jim Henson, even after they legally separated in 1986. Jim died in 1990.
Alongside her work with the Muppets, Jane was a big supporter of fine art and education. She studied fine art at Catholic University in D.C., and worked as an assistant art teacher at the Mead School for Human Development in Connecticut.
Her Muppets work continued after she stopped working as a puppeteer: she helped develop The Muppet Show on Tour and Sesame Street Live, and put together "The Art of the Muppets," a touring museum exhibit that debuted at Lincoln Centre in NYC in 1979.
In 1992, Jane founded The Jim Henson Legacy as a way of promoting his work, and in 2001, she created The Jane Henson Foundation to continue her philanthropic work.
The Jim Henson Legacy tweeted this about Jane's passing:
Everyone at The Jim Henson Legacy will dearly miss our founder Jane Nebel Henson (1934-2013). henson.com/jane.html— Jim Henson Legacy (@JimHensonLegacy) April 2, 2013